Last week brought us lots of Geeky Outsidery awesome. So, we decided to consolidate it all into one giant post of awesome to get your geek on and week started off right. Happy Sunday!
Gotta headline with this week’s best news! Amandla Stenberg, that dope actress who played Rue in the Hunger Games, will be joining the cast of SleepyHollow! After a less-than-awesome (read, horribly racist) experience after her Hunger Games debut, it puts a huge smile on the geek gods faces to see this great tiny actress join a diverse cast on a fun show with an awesome dynamic Black female lead. Win.
Speaking of winning, Marvel gave us the gift of a new badass superhero. The teenage shapeshifter from Jersey will be debuting in her own title series as the new Ms. Marvel in February 2014! Real name Kamala Khan, this young new superhero grew up in Jersey but has Pakistani roots and joins the ranks of the few Muslim superheroes in mainstream comics! Written by G. Willow Wilson, Khan made her first appearance in last week’s Captain Marvel #17(yep. Go get it!). (via CBR)
Awesome freelance artists (and video game industry professionals!) Audran Guerard and Daniel Roy had the beautiful idea to put together a graphic novel adaptation of the life of Frederick Douglass. Based on his two biographies The Life of Frederick Douglass: A Graphic Novelwill be published as two 50-page volumes featuring some beautiful watercolor art. Support ’em (and dibs a copy!) on Kickstarter.
Marvel is bringing Daredevil, Luke Cage, Iron Fist and Jessica Jones to the small screen! Specifically, they signed a deal with Netflix for four separate new live-action TV series, one for each of the characters. And here’s the dope – these four shows will lead to a team-up in a miniseries for TheDefenders! (via IGN)
In a recent editorial in The New York Times, A.O. Scott took a few race-centric blockbusters, like The Help and Django Unchained to task, or rather to uncomfortable truths. But not for the reasons one might think.
What Scott pointed out was that these films offer a sense of redemption for white consumers, who attend them out of a sense of duty to acknowledge the very real horrors of slavery and the civil rights era. And in the theater, when the helpful white good guy throws caution to the wind to help their fellow suffering blacks, they can mourn that distant past, identify themselves with this mythic hero, and shame and hate the carcicature-d evil racists, leaving the theater with a relief that such horrors are a thing of a dark and incomprehensible past and that they themselves are morally well-adjusted in an era where race is no longer such a pressing issue.
This pop culture distancing, he argues, is one of the biggest stumbling blocks in the conversation about race we’re (not) having in this country.
And he’s right. There are examples everywhere. One recent and hit-you-over-the-head example can be found in the (fun and awesome) TV show Sleepy Hollow. Created by a bunch of white guys, the show has achieved strides in television history simply in the casting of the show, which features not just a Black female lead (basically unheard of in a supernatural TV series), but a whole host of frequently appearing black and brown faces, and all while actively shutting down racial stereotypes. It’s dope, and it makes one really really like this particular bunch of white guys.
But funny enough the one stereotype that remains is actually smeared all over the show’s side-kick white guy (Seriously. Love. It.) Ichabod Crane, who is basically a progressive white apologist and history revisionist.
Of course, the entire show is a fantastical re-imagining of history as one big shit-show fight-to-the-death with…well, Death and his demon friends. But the particulars of what gets revised is telling.
Like when Crane gets all “no way!” about the genocide of Native Americans: “What?! The Native Americans were decimated? But they were my friends! We fought alongside them against the evil Brits.” This is true to an extent. Many Native peoples fought alongside the Patriot soldiers, but just as many were siding with the Brits in hopes that a British victory would choke the steady stream of colonists stealing Native lands…
At first, one is inclined to scoff at Crane’s role as adorable white guilt assuager. But actually, in a fantasy television series, alongside historical revisions that place the headless horseman in the Revolutionary War, is the only place such shenanigans belong.
Black Americans have been using fantasy and science fiction to rewrite history and write new Conde’s novel takes Tituba out of obscurity and writes her prominently into history, from her youth in Barbados to meeting Hester Prynne, to her escape from being burned as a witch. Not only that, but she removes the yoke of victim-hood that stalks Black history and endows Tituba with supernatural powers as well.futures quite some time. One great example is Maryse Conde’s historical fiction novel I, Tituba, Black Witch of Salem, which draws on the true story of a Black woman who was the first to be accused of being a witch before the Salem Witch Trials got all epic and bloody. But beyond the fact that she was accused and managed to escape with her flesh intact, we know little else about her.
But what’s the point of such fantasizing? Well Conde’s novel is certainly a metaphorical reclamation of history and it spreads awareness of the fact that Black people were there too. It’s also a feel-good book (despite all of it’s sadness) for Black readers, because it puts brown faces in histories that we’ve learned had little to do with us. We root for the hero hard between the tears. Many non-fictional scholarly books do this for other eras and events.
(At this point, can’t help but give a shout-out to this dope Tumblr Medieval POC that aims to debunk the myth that Black people weren’t around in Medieval Europe).
But it’s in the fantastical revisionings that Kindred‘s Dana Franklin gets to kill the white guy who owned her ancestors, or where Harriet Tubman gets to be a pants-wearing steampunk spy, psychic, and freedom fighter.
This gets at the very definition of fantasy for fans — it’s where we can go to utterly escape reality, that includes white guilt. There Black people can turn to fantasy to empower their history literally by imagining superpowers into the hands of their ancestors or just knock-around the mastuh. And white folk can turn to fantasy to pretend it was evil vampires who were the slave owners or make friendlies between the colonists and Native American communities.
Now, revisions that cleanse whites of historical wrongs are problematic in movies like The Help, where they masquerade as possible truths, because they further obscure the real historical truths that are already obfuscated by incomplete or non-existent records, the dehumanization of whole groups of people, essentially by the white power structures that write history. And they deny the role of the marginalized peoples of the world in history as anything other than victims.
However, when such revisions appear in the context of ridiculous story lines like those of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunterand SleepyHollowit’s basically an admission that notions of the white power structure forged by our messed up history can be warm-fuzzied away are just as ridiculous as an acrobatic axe-wielding Abe Lincoln Matrix-style dodging a horse thrown at him by an angry racist vampire.
So, I roll my eyes a little at the adorable need for such white guilt cuddlies, but I ain’t mad. It’s happening in exactly the right place, right before some other absurd ridiculosity goes down.
Graphic India, a an India-based entertainment company dedicated to bringing comics and stories to Indian youth, launched its YouTube channel last week with a motion comic by veteran comics writer Grant Morrison and artists JeevanJ.Kang. Based on the Eastern epic The Mahabaharata,Morrison’s18 Days is a moderned telling of the 18 days of battle described in the classic story.
Episode 1 launched last week in English, Hindi, and Tamil. Now up to episode 4, each episode is approximately 5 minutes long and beautifully beautifully dabs the famous text with a science fiction flavor. Jeevan Kang’s art perfectly captures this blend of modern fantasy and historical mysticism.
Don’t be too put off my the android-like monotone of the narrator in Episode 1, you get a relief from it in the following episodes when the history lesson is over and the real action begins with a host of protagonists and baddies.
Graphic India has a host of other comics and stories, featuring big names in comics and introducing heroes that bring the Indian experience to this dynamic medium. For Free Comic Book Day this year, Graphic India partnered with comics superstar Stan Lee to produce the comic Chakra, The Invinciblethe story of a young boy from Mumbai with the technical supergenius to create a suit that activates the Chakras of the body to unleash superpowers. Through other partnerships, the company has produced comics like Ramayan 3392AD, the epic story of Rama set 2000 years in the future and featuring art by Powers’ creator Michael Oeming; and Devi, a modern take on the ancient myth of the warrior goddess Devi.
Stunning, nerdy, creative genius! Sci-fi creators should take inspiration from this hotness. Seriously, can we get a quality science fiction or fantasy TV series with a cast of leading Black characters (plural!) on a major network? And can it be this pretty…
Dear fellow geek: If you’re not already convinced that you absolutely need to see a play about Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) with a title like “She Kills Monsters“and some beautiful comic-book-y poster art… then let the play’s opening lines convince you:
[cue hooded, accented, ominous narrator] “In a time before Facebook, Worlds of Warcraft, and Massive Multiplayer Online RPGs, there once existed simply a game. Forged by the hands of nerds, crafted in the minds of geeks, and so advanced in its advanciness it would take a whole second edition to contain all its mighty geekery.”
And if you’re still not convinced, watch this trailer:
Right?! A whole play about D&D that opens with a slew of geek tropes and references?! Yes, please! Did you know there was such a thing as Geek Theater? It’s probably not yet actually a thing. Clearly playwright Qui Nguyen invented it… and in She Kills Monsters he did it to a 90’s soundtrack that’ll make you alternately slap your forehead in embarrassment (because you still know every single word) and/or unconsciously start doing the butterfly in your seat.
If you were like the nerds ’round my neighborhood in the 90’s you spent most of the decade blowing on Sega cartridges, recording mixtapes with weird combinations of No Doubt, TLC, and The Butthole Surfers for your brand-new Walkman, and staying up to catch the late-night reruns of Xena: Warrior Princess. If you were like Agnes Evans, the unlikely protagonist (and resident bore among the battle-clad nerds) of this geeky play, you spent the 90’s listening to Ace of Base and tying up the house’s single phone line to talk with your bff, while your geeky little sister played dress up and slayed imaginary dragons…
It’s 1995 and Agnes Evans is a 25-year-old school-teacher at the same high school her little sister Tilly attends. Er – attended, since Tilly, along with their mother and father, were recently killed in a car crash. Agnes is the only survivor of the Evans family, and after a brief shadow puppet intro to set up some bio background, we’re introduced to a fairly well-adjusted Agnes approaching one of her pubescent geeky students for help uncovering the mystery of her sister’s Dungeons and Dragons module (info that sets up the game).
And we’re off! In no time there are sexy-clad warrior women swinging battle-axes and kicking some serious demon monster ass. Agnes is caught up in a world she doesn’t understand and mostly judges it as pretty ridiculous. But it’s all she has left of her sister, and so she takes up a sword and in her flowery “Mom” skirt she fights alongside a ragtag team of heroes, including….
Kaliope, the Dark Elf/Drow (actress Adobuere Ebiama)
Orcus, the lazy demon overlord (actor Stewart Evan Smith)
Lillith, the demon queen (actress Meredith Saran)
and of course…
her sister, Tillius, the Paladin (actress Jordan Clark)
Along the way, Agnes is not only inducted into the fantasy land fueled by obsessive geekery, but she begins to realize how little she really knew her sister.
Qui Nguyen didn’t just write a play about D&D to see a bunch of beautiful nerds swing swords and battle sexy succubus cheerleaders. For as amazing as the action scenes are (thanks to Fight Director Robert Najarian, cause I’m pretty sure those were actual weapons… that battle-axe looked like it had some heft to it…), and as fun as it is to rock out to Butthole Surfers while badass warrior women slice and dice bugbears and carnivorous gelatinous cubes, it is still ultimately a play about a woman who has tragically lost her family, and who is wrestling with the ghost of a sister she never really knew. And it’s also about Tilly, a geeky girl who retreats from a meaner world that doesn’t understand her into a fantasy land where she gets to decide the rules of the world and slay some mean monsters in the meantime.
Somehow, even sandwiched between the glorious sound of swords clanking over “The World Is A Vampire” by The Smashing Pumpkins and scenes of a sassy, killer faerie grooving to TLC, the more serious moments still hold their weight. She Kills Monstersis smart and hilarious and a complete and total geek-out, and it’s also an homage to all the outsiders for whom games, fantastical worlds, and other geeky enterprises were places to be more themselves, who they want to be, or to get completely away from reality altogether.
The cast and crew, led by Director Shira Milikowsky, came up with inventive ways to use the space and create seamless and clear transitions between the D&D world and Agnes’ reality. Actress Kaitee Tredway hijacked the show with her bold and sadistic portrayal of Evil Tina, succubus cheerleader, and the sassy faerie Farrah.
It was a nice surprise to be so pleased every time minor character Jamianne Devlin came on stage as Agnes’ snarky, no-bullshit best friend Vera. Though not a lead role, Devlin played Vera perfectly, giving the real-world scenes just as much spunk and vitality as the demon-infested sword-clanging D&D world.
And of course, real-life sisters Jordan Clark (Tilly) and Paige Clark Anderson (Agnes), who I’m betting will solve all their sibling disputes via. sword fight from now on, totally nailed the sisterly love, complete with juvenile bickering and taunting.
Because this is Geek Outsider, and because the super awesome cast was winningly diverse and female-led, I have to also give a shout-out toCompany One, the super awesome theater company behind the show, which was founded, according to their website, “to integrate Boston audiences, challenge the city’s social divides and foster a new generation of theatre-makers and theatergoers.” Love it.
Basically, go see it. Now. Ten bucks you go home and dig-out your twenty-sided die immediately afterwards.